Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Battery Back That Thing Up: Big Battery Options

We've all seen the portable battery packs that charge cell phones and tablets. They work great for small electronics, but they lack the capacity to power anything that has a serious demand. For that you need larger, more advanced batteries.

I've used GoalZero's site and data as a reference when considering battery back ups, and for good reason: they publish actual numbers on their equipment, and their quality of build has made them the gold standard for backup power storage. Their equipment is also a self-contained solution, with the charging system, battery storage, and inverter all in one package. If you were to assemble a backup battery system for your home, you'd need to source a charging method, the battery cells, and DC to AC inverter separately, then assemble and mount or store them. GoalZero (and other companies) do this in a package about the size of a large suitcase.

The first step in deciding which system to get is to figure out how much battery you need, and this will depend on how much you need to run and how long you expect the power grid to be down. Notice that I said "need" and not "want;" the more you run, the shorter your battery pack can keep you rolling. In my area, blackouts rarely last more than 24 hours, and even those are uncommon, although in the past year we did have a windstorm accompanied by a nasty cold snap that took out power to some residents for almost a week. For somebody like Erin in a hurricane zone, though, a week without power is a regular occurrence. Look at your area's history for the past few years and decide how long you expect it to be dark.

Now that you know how long you expect power to be down, figure out what you need to keep on. I would want to keep my lights, my refrigerator and deep freeze, and the receptacles* in my bedroom powered, at a minimum ( I use a CPAP machine when I sleep, so I need to be able to power it at night). During the winter, I'd also want to keep my furnace powered. I wouldn't make that choice if I had electric heat, but my furnace is gas, so the electricity just runs the controls and fan on a 120 volt circuit. I'd also stretch my power even further by turning off the breakers for receptacles I wasn't needing, and using the lights only when necessary.  
* A receptacle is where you plug something in. Outlets aren't always a receptacle; technically, any place you wire power to a device is considered an outlet.

All receptacles are outlets. Not all outlets are receptacles.

Big batteries aren't exactly cheap, but they're a great solution when your power only goes out occasionally, or if you're in a place like an apartment where you can't use a generator or other backup means.


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